Printable Version
Pronunciation: dis-fêngk-shê-nêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Badly or improperly functioning, malfunctioning.

Notes: The spelling of today's Good Word is not an oddity but a reflection of the two similar Greek and Latin prefixes at work in English. The prefix dis- was borrowed from Latin and means, approximately, "not, un-", as in dissatisfy, discomfort, and disable. Dys- means "bad, problematic" and was borrowed from Greek: dyslexia is not the failure to recognize words, but difficulty in recognizing words. Dyspepsia is a disorder of digestion, not nondigestion. The same applies to today's Good Word: dysfunctional people and families function, they just function badly.

In Play: We are dysfunctional at anything we do awkwardly or badly: "Leah Tarde is such a dysfunctional dancer that she comes off as a good stand-up comic at dances." Dysfunctionality applies to groups as well as individuals: "This entire office has been dysfunctional since they removed the water cooler—no one has any idea what is going on any more."

Word History: Several Good Word readers wondered if the verb today's boiled down to, fungi "to perform, carry out", was related to mushrooms (fungi in Italian). Function comes to us from the Latin functio(n) "performance, execution," the action noun, based on the past participle, functus, of fungi "to perform, execute". In fact, there is not relation. Fungus comes from the same source as Greek spongos "sponge", less the Fickle S. We have seen several words which appear in some languages with an S (English slack, Latin super) and in others without the S (Latin lax and Greek uper, hyper- in English). In fact, English cold and scald share the same ancestor with a fickle S. Now since mushrooms like the morel and chanterelle resemble sponges, this relation makes sense even though there is no written proof. (The first four people to ask about the relation between the verb fungi and the noun fungus were Mary Jane Stoneburg, Mark Lackey, Kathleen of Norway, and Neuminous of the Alpha Agora. We thank them all.)

Dr. Goodword,

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